BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) — The top U.S. military officer said Sunday he believes parts of Afghanistan will be contested by the Taliban after international forces complete their planned withdrawal by the end of 2014, and that could be the case for years to come.
U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey also told The Associated Press in an interview that Afghans will take the security lead throughout the country before summer, as agreed in January by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Barack Obama.
Wrapping up a visit to Afghanistan, Dempsey said that he was cautious about the final stage of handing off security responsibility to Afghan forces and optimistic about the chances it ultimately will prove successful.
Afghan forces have been increasingly taking the lead in combat operations as international forces move to complete their withdrawal by the end of 2014.
There are about 100,000 international troops in Afghanistan now, including 66,000 from the United States. The U.S. troop total is scheduled to drop to about 32,000 by early next year, with the bulk of the decline occurring during the winter months.
While there has been no final decision on the size of the post-2014 force, U.S. and NATO leaders say they are considering a range of between 8,000 and 12,000 — most of them trainers and advisers.
Asked if he believes that some parts of Afghanistan will be contested by the Taliban in 2015, Dempsey said, "Yes, of course there will be. And if we were having this conversation 10 years from now, I suspect there would (still) be contested areas because the history of Afghanistan suggests that there will always be contested areas."
Dempsey, who held talks with U.S. commanders and Afghan security officials, said he was not bothered by the prospect of the U.S. and NATO relinquishing the lead combat role this year while the Taliban continues to hold sway in some less populated areas.
The war is now in its 12th year.